From Gardens to Markets – a Madam Sara perspective

Everyone who has been to Port-au-Prince, Haiti remembers the street scenes of market women sitting along the roads with their commerce hoping to earn some money. For some of these women, their hopes have become reality as they make more money than Haiti’s average. These are ordinary rural women who were able to rise above the rest. What makes these entrepreneurs more successful than their colleagues? And what can we learn from these upcoming businesswomen in order to support others? This study identifies the major actors within Haiti’s internal market system through which agricultural produce moves from producer [gardens] to urban consumer [markets], and describes the key strategies and manoeuvres which the various mostly female traders employ in their operations. These entrepreneurial strategies give insight in the ways in which these women have developed, and continue to have an indispensable role in the Haitian informal economy. In this, the focus is on a specific category of Haitian market women, namely Madam Sara, the key intermediary of the internal market system.

In fragile states such as Haiti, formal financial institutions are either lacking or not fully equipped to deal with the task of supporting smallholders in increasing their produce, the quality, obtaining credit, and access to and position in markets. Many within the chain have adapted to these circumstances by making use of other institutional arrangements, building on kinship, social networks, social institutions and others (Hiller et al 2012: 31). Producers and buyers heavily depend on their intermediaries to get access to inputs, but also to access markets, increase quality, and obtain information about market and quality needs. Thus, Madam Sara operates in fragile, insecure and dangerous circumstances: yet, through entrepreneurial strategies she is able to cope with some of the dangers and risks she faces, including state fragility, insecurity, and natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake and hurricanes.

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